ELTJ book review


More books about ELF pronunciation are desperately needed, so I was very excited when I read the blurb of Jolanta Szpyra-Kozłowska’s book Pronunciation in EFL Instruction: A Research-based Approach, published by Multilingual Matters, which claims to address the following key issues:

in view of recent debates on the global spread of English and its international lingua franca role’: how to choose a pronunciation model, which pronunciation features to teach, and how to teach them.

pron bookThe author proposes her own approach, a NELF approach to pronunciation—Native English as a Lingua Franca—which she says ‘combines some ideas of ELF and EFL, and can be viewed as a kind of compromise between them’ (p. 23). I was intrigued by what this might mean but, unfortunately, the books disappoints by failing to contribute any meaningful solutions to the question of what and how to teach pronunciation to students who use ELF.

eltj70However, if you are looking for an exploration of some of these issues, check out my review of Szpyra-Kozłowska’s book in volume 70 issue 3 of OUP’s ELT Journal. You can access a longer extract on the ELT Journal site here and we will be happy to share the full text on an individual basis. Contact us here.


My English Voice


The fifth in a series of lesson materials

If you’re looking for audio resources featuring a wider variety of accents than is offered in most coursebooks, then YouTube is the place to go. This is the last in our series of five free downloadable lesson plans and worksheets based on YouTube clips, aimed at inspiring teachers to expose students to the full range of English accents in the world.

The four previous posts have all featured individual lesson plans for teachers to take into class. I would like to complete the series with something a bit different, by sharing details of my new ‘online school’ based almost entirely on… YouTube.

Self-study worksheets

There are so many interesting videos on YouTube featuring speakers from around the world that I decided it is time to create a YouTube channel of my own, to put these videos in one place. I have created self-study worksheets and answer keys for each one, with listening comprehension and vocabulary exercises, and a section aimed at raising students’ awareness of the range of accents they might hear when using English as a Lingua Franca (which I have called International English on the videos because I think this is easier for students to understand). The lessons include a sub-titled extract from each video, with a transcript of the extract on the worksheet, and students are asked to repeat what the speaker says to try and notice any differences between their own pronunciation and the pronunciation of the speaker on the video. The My English Voice website is still in the final stages of design, but should be live in a few weeks, and this will be a place for students to search lessons by topic, level, and speakers’ first language backgrounds.

raleway font logo

Example lesson

The lessons are aimed at learners, i.e. they are self-study materials for people to do at home, alone. However, teachers are most welcome to use them in class, and it would be great if you could show the site to any students who might be interested, even if you feel the worksheets are not appropriate for use in class. You can encourage people to join the My English Voice ‘community’ by liking the Facebook page, subscribing to the YouTube channel, and signing up to the newsletter for updates of new lessons here. And if they subscribe (for free) this is the kind of lesson they will receive:

  • A worksheet like this
  • …which goes with a video like this
  • …and when they finish, they can check their answers with an answer key like this.

YouTube live broadcast

Feedback from students who have used the worksheets suggests that they need more motivation to actually complete them! For example, some kind of deadline. So, on Saturdays at 9.00 GMT, I am hosting YouTube live broadcast ‘chats’ where students can answer the discussion question at the end of the worksheets by typing their ideas into the chatbox.

I am also experimenting with ways to make English language learning more accessible, i.e. more affordable, by hosting speaking ‘lessons’ via Skype and YouTube live broadcast on Sundays at 9.00 GMT. The idea is that students pay the price of a cup of coffee in their country, so people pay different rates based on their currency. It works like this…

  • Students message me through the Facebook page with their email address, Skype ID, and their first language (e.g. French, Farsi, Japanese, etc.).
  • After they have paid, via PayPal, I match them with another student and send them the Skype ID of their ‘speaking partner’ (of a different first language background).
  • They also receive an email with the lesson materials and a link to the YouTube live broadcast event.
  • During the lesson, students can type questions and messages into the chat box on YouTube live broadcast to communicate with the whole class, but the speaking is done just with their partner via Skype.
  • After I have demonstrated the communication exercise (i.e. an information gap activity), students call their speaking partner on Skype while I countdown the time in the YouTube chatroom.
  • When the time for the speaking activity has finished, students come back to the chatroom to share their experiences of doing the activity and reflect about how successfully they communicated. We work together as a group to think of ways they could improve.
  • Then there is another speaking exercise in the same way again, using Skype, and then feedback via the YouTube chat box.

The My English Voice course

As well as the YouTube lessons, My English Voice will also soon be launched as an ‘online school’ by offering a four-week Skype course in groups of three learners, all of different first language backgrounds. The first pilot course has just been completed, with a Russian speaker, Japanese speaker, and Farsi speaker. Here are a few details…

My English Voice course details infographic


The course aims to develop learners’ speaking and listening skills in an ELF context and, as you might expect coming from one half of ELFpron, there is a strong pronunciation focus:

Course outline

I would love to hear any suggestions or feedback, and watch this space for the launch of the website in the next few weeks. Happy YouTubing!


Thank you, Fortaleza!


Thanks to everybody who attended Laura’s plenary at the 11th ABCI conference in Fortaleza on 21 July 2016.

Here’s the full description of her talk from the conference website:

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You can watch a video of the presentation here, or by copying and pasting the following link [https://youtu.be/xeqfDkQbt6w] into your browser:

You can download her slides by clicking the link below:

ABCI conference plenary slides – Laura Patsko 21 July 2016

And here are direct links to the things she mentioned in the presentation which are described in more detail on this website:

If you’ve got questions or comments, feel free to leave them below, or to contact Laura through the “meet and contact us” link in the navigation menu on this page.


Choosing a university


The fourth in a series of lesson materials

If you’re looking for audio resources featuring a wider variety of accents than is offered in most coursebooks, then YouTube is the place to go. This is the fourth in our series of five free downloadable lesson plans and worksheets based on YouTube clips, aimed at inspiring teachers to expose students to the full range of English accents in the world.

The lessons are suitable for Pre-intermediate level classes and above, although the audio materials could be used with Elementary classes by adapting the tasks. The discussion questions related to accents and pronunciation could also be done in students’ first language if these are too challenging at their level. The materials could be used with adult or teen classes.

Choosing a university

This one-and-a-half-minute video advertises Birkbeck, University of London, which specialises in evening university study, both part-time and full-time courses. There are five speakers who all answer the same question: “Why did you choose Birkbeck?”. The speakers’ L1 backgrounds are not given, but universities are often international environments*, and there are a range of accents in the clip.

*See Jenkins, J. (2014). English as a Lingua Franca in the International University: The politics of academic English language policy Routledge

The lesson outline

  1. Students predict the reasons someone might give for choosing a particular university.
  2. Students listen and compare their predictions to what the speakers say. Then they listen again to match photos of the speakers to sentences explaining reasons for choosing Birkbeck.
  3. Students complete a dictation exercise by listening closely to just one of the speakers. They order sentences based on what they hear.
  4. Students imagine they are going (back) to university and visiting an open day. They brainstorm ten questions they would ask to help them choose which university to attend.
  5. Finally, students focus on the range of accents in the video and brainstorm ways to avoid / deal with communication breakdown.

You can download the student worksheet here and the teacher’s notes here.

More links

Here are other YouTube clips featuring university students with a range of accents:

Durham University’s business school

Foreign students in Germany

International students at the University of Bristol

International students at Michigan State University




The third in a series of lesson materials

If you’re looking for audio resources featuring a wider variety of accents than is offered in most coursebooks, then YouTube is the place to go. This is the third in our series of five free downloadable lesson plans and worksheets based on YouTube clips, aimed at inspiring teachers to expose students to the full range of English accents in the world.

The lessons are suitable for Pre-intermediate level classes and above, although the audio materials could be used with Elementary classes by adapting the tasks. The discussion questions related to accents and pronunciation could also be done in students’ first language if these are too challenging at their level. The materials could be used with adult or teen classes.


SocialGiver is a social enterprise based in Thailand. The founder, Arch Wongchindawest is a One Young World Ambassador. In this 2 minute video, he explains how SocialGiver works and he talks about why One Young World is important.

The lesson outline

  1. Students discuss what they think a social enterprise is.
  2. Students complete a short gapped paragraph about the speaker’s background.
  3. Students listen and answer a gist question, and then true or false questions.
  4. Students discuss whether SocialGiver is a good idea, and what kind of social enterprise they would set up in their own community.
  5. Finally, students discuss whether they found the (Thai L1) speaker’s  pronunciation clear and easy to understand. The aim is to raise students’ awareness that speakers with a different accent to your own can still be easy to understand, even if you are not familiar with that accent.

You can download the student worksheet here and the teacher’s notes here.

More links

The One Young World Summit is an annual event for young leaders aged 18 to 30 from around the world who are passionate about causes like the environment, poverty, education, and human rights. The website features a gallery of links to YouTube clips of talks by speakers at the summit last year in Bangkok. Given the diversity of the speakers’ backgrounds, the site provides an excellent library of interesting audio resources featuring a wide range of accents. However, with topics like global warming and tackling corruption, the language level is quite high. If you have a high level class, check out these videos:


Coming soon to Fortaleza…


ELFpron’s Laura Patsko is presenting in Brazil next month! If you’re going to be at the 11th ABCI Conference in Fortaleza, don’t miss Laura’s plenary, entitled “Bad rabbits and mouse traps: Making sense of pronunciation for Brazilian students”.

[Update, Sept 2016: video of this presentation now available here.)

Here’s the full abstract from the ABCI website:

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Hope to see you there!


Materials writing and ELF


I’m currently taking the iTDi course on materials writing with Kath Bilsborough. We took a vote on whether authentic materials needed to come from a native speaker, and the result was that the group is overwhelmingly in favour of using materials from a range of sources, not just those written ‘by native speakers for native-speaker consumption’ (the definition of authentic materials being put forward for discussion). Since Kath pointed the group in my direction for more details about this topic, here is an attempt to clarify some of the issues and provide a bit of background…

The issue that we have been trying to address here at ELFpron for the past three years is the lack of listening texts featuring a range of accents beyond native speaker accents.

We focus on speaking and listening because…

  1. This is what our students seemed to have most difficulty with when it comes to variation.
  2. In speaking and listening, it is often more instantly identifiable where someone comes from based on their accent than in writing. Therefore, the native vs. non-native speaker issue becomes more relevant.
  3. When you codify language in a written form, it is easier to refer to a ‘standard’. As much as some people would like there to be a standard when it comes to spoken English, the reality is much messier.

So, why don’t coursebooks feature a wider range of accents?

  1. As mentioned in point 3 above, some people might feel that the messy nature of the scattered English language does not make it easy to package into a neat, tidy coursebook. (I believe otherwise, which is why I am currently designing my own website and online course with resources for learners interested in International English. It will be going live very shortly – so watch this space, and thanks in advance to fellow iTDi course participants for feedback on the materials!).
  2. Publishers are naturally conservative. They tend to follow trends and avoid taking too many risks (with good reason, given how long and expensive the publishing process is). The demand has to come from the consumers, i.e. schools, students and teachers, but the problem is…
  3. That creates a vicious circle; teachers and students cannot demand something if they do not know what that something is. Students say things like “Teacher, I want to sound British” because they believe that is how they should sound. Why? Because teachers and coursebooks suggest that is how they should sound, not necessarily explicitly, but that is the message that comes across by using such a limited range of accents, and also by teaching things like weak forms and linking in productive exercises, e.g. drilling these features and using words like ‘correct’, ‘mistake’, or ‘good pronunciation’ – as if these are a) how everyone speaks everywhere in the world, and b) as if things like weak forms and linking will help students in their speaking. It is exactly those types of pronunciation features that students complain they find difficult to understand when they listen to some native speaker accents. So why would they want to make themselves sound more difficult to understand? And why would teachers want to make their students sound more difficult to understand?

Here are some suggested answers…

  1. Maybe the student does not know any different – see point 3 above about the vicious circle. In my experience, those same students who have said they wanted to ‘sound British’ (whatever that means, given the huge amount of accent variation within the UK alone) did not feel the same way after their awareness had been raised about the variety of English in the world, and after we discussed accent and identity.
  2. Maybe the student worries that people will have a negative perception of their accent and discriminate against them. I understand this feeling, on a very personal level. But I would argue that the solution is not to perpetuate accent discrimination by maintaining the status quo as a materials writer. I was horribly bullied at primary school after moving from the south of England to further up north in England because my accent was different. ELFpron co-author, Laura Patsko, is also passionate about this subject on a personal level, having moved from the USA to the UK as a child. But do you think my teachers turned to me and said that my pronunciation was ‘not correct’ and that what I needed to do was to try to sound more like them, perhaps drilling the phrases the way I ‘should’ be saying them in front of the other children? Or do you think they tried to encourage the other children to be more tolerant, and took the opportunity to speak to them about diversity? Those teachers might not have succeeded in their attempts to bring the other children round (after two years of bullying, I was moved to another school where people seemed more accepting), but just because they ‘failed’, does it mean those teachers should have opted for the first solution? Accent is a sensitive topic, not only because people’s identity is wrapped up in it, but because accent discrimination is real. People are disadvantaged in the workplace if there is prejudice surrounding someone’s accent –  not just in the English language teaching industry. Do we want to ‘feed into’ that system as materials writers?
  3. Maybe the teacher feels that teaching pronunciation features like linking and weak forms productively can help students receptively, and there may be other carefully considered reasons for making such choices. In which case, great. We are all in favour of responding to students’ needs by making informed choices; it’s the lack of awareness surrounding those choices that we have been trying to work on for the past three years by speaking at conferences and writing about ELF. That said, if you are teaching things like weak forms to help students receptively, just be aware of the language you use, e.g. avoid terms like ‘good’, ‘correct’, and ‘mistake’.
  4. Maybe the teacher (native or non-native speaker) went through the same process of being made to feel their own accent was not acceptable or in some way deficient, and so their students, in turn, inherit this deference to native speakers in the case of non-native speakers, and deference to a perceived ‘standard’ like RP in the case of native speakers with a regional accent (who, if they become English teachers, will continue to perpetuate the myth with their own students, and so on).
  5. Maybe the teacher is a native speaker who confuses the fact that they do, personally, ‘own’ English, i.e. it is his or her own first language, with the fact that it is also the world’s lingua franca, i.e. English is spoken everywhere, which means everyone ‘owns’ it, which means it does not ‘belong’ to any one geographical place. Indeed, it might be for that very reason that the native speaker teacher in question has a job in English language teaching – not necessarily just because they are a native speaker (although there’s plenty of that discrimination going on, as we all know), but because the need for English language teachers would not be there on such a huge scale if English were not the world’s lingua franca. It’s remarkable that some materials writers even question the existence of the concept of English being used as a lingua franca (yes, ELF – English as a lingua franca – refers to the way English is used; it is not a variety of English, as some people mistakenly believe) when those people have a job that depends on there being such a demand for English, precisely because it is the world’s lingua franca.
  6. Maybe the teacher in question is under external pressures, e.g. to prepare students for an exam which requires students to speak in a certain way. There is definitely much work to be done in the field of assessment if we are to promote accent tolerance.
  7. Maybe the student wants to change their accent in order to integrate within a specific speech community, e.g. they are going to live, study, or work in the UK or with British people. Of course they should have the option of adapting their pronunciation to fit in, if that is what they want. But students are rarely given this choice. It is usually assumed that people want to sound like a native speaker, whether that is relevant or not. You only need to look through the endless videos on YouTube about ‘improving your accent’, ‘getting rid of your accent’, or ‘reducing your accent’. Those terms don’t even make sense – everyone has an accent; you can only swap your accent for another one, not get rid of it. It’s just a matter of who you are speaking with, e.g. a Canadian in their home city speaking to someone else from that city is not perceived to have an accent. But if they travel to a different city in Canada, they may be perceived to have an accent (an accent from their home city). If they travel to another country, they may be perceived to have an accent (probably a Canadian accent). They could only ‘reduce’ their accent in the sense that they could try and sound more like the people in the place where they currently are. But with English this makes little sense because English is mostly used as a lingua franca, e.g. between a Japanese person and a German person, perhaps at a conference in Poland. In this situation, what does it mean to ‘reduce’ their accent?
  8. What people can and, we would argue should, focus on is speaking intelligibly. But how can we know what makes English intelligible? See our post about the Lingua Franca Core for this. Ultimately, though, more research does need to be done to establish what makes English intelligible. The great thing about the iTDi course is we have a group of 40+ teachers who might be interested in getting involved in research in this area. We are already planning to collaborate by going through our coursebooks to collect information about the range of accents featured in the main coursebooks. If you would also like to help with this, please get in touch in the comments below.

So, if you are a teacher making  your own listening materials, e.g. using clips from YouTube, what questions can you ask yourself to choose your audio?

  1. What accents are my students most likely going to need to understand? For example, my students in Thailand will probably speak to people from other ASEAN countries, like Malaysia. Can you ask your students about who they usually speak English with (or expect to in the future)? If they are young learners, can you ask their parents or someone else?
  2. What accents are they most likely to have difficulty understanding? These are likely to be accents that are the most different from their own and the accents they are least familiar with.
  3. Which speakers could be useful role models for my students? While it is helpful to expose students to a range of accents they might not be familiar with, it can also be beneficial to use speakers they identify with and can aspire to sound like, e.g. a proficient, intelligible Thai speaker could be a role model for Thai students.
  4. If you cannot find relevant audio online, can you ask someone to record something for you? If so, don’t forget to share your audio as we would all love to benefit from it!

If you are a materials writer creating listening scripts for a publisher which will be read by actors, you might have less control. So what can you do?

  1. At least raise the issue of accent diversity with your editor; the more people who ask about it, the more likely they are to perceive a need, and hopefully respond to that need.
  2. At least ensure that the topics are generic enough that they do not perpetuate the myth that English ‘belongs’ to the UK / the USA etc.
  3. Contribute your skills elsewhere if you can find the time! If you are a skilled materials writer, can you help move the industry forwards by publishing some materials for free that do feature a wider range of accents? There are materials here on this site, I am also launching another site soon aimed directly at learners, and hopefully we might have some materials from the iTDi course to share with you too!

Any other suggestions? Share your ideas in the comments below.